I was happy to see that Latin American Art Song was being celebrated for Hispanic Heritage Month here in NYC, with an atractive concert produced by the young and enterprising tenor Mario Arévalo. The concert, held on the evening Friday October 28th as part of the “Music at Second Presbyterian Church” in Manhattan, programmed both Latin song standards as well as lesser known gems from the art song realm; then again, Latin American composers, both pop and classical have been know to walk a fine line between the two worlds. This subtle interplay between pop standards and the denominated “art song” characterized the whole evening.
The concert was accompanied by pianists Juan Guerra González and Markus Kaitila, as well as percussionist Aracely Sánchez and guitarist Bradley Colten. Arévalo was joined by sopranos Elissa Álvarez, Teresa Castillo, Rosa D’Imperio and Mary Thorne; tenor Andrés Peñalver and bass-baritone Iván Amaro rounded off the interpreters of the evening.
The concert began with an ensemble version of “Siempre en mi corazón” by the well known Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona (1895-1963) and segued into a first half of short song sets by composers from Argentina, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Cuba and Mexico. Bass-baritone Iván Amaro and tenor Andrés Peñalver performed songs that highlighted composers from Argentina and Venezuela. The young and silver toned soprano Teresa Castillo pleased the audience with two beautifully interpreted songs from the mid 20th century pop standard world that begged to be sung by a lyric voice: “Luna Liberiana” by Jesús Bomilla (1911-1999) from Costa Rica was a mix of jazz and French impressionism; “El Faisán” by Lecuona climbed to a higher tessitura that showed off Ms. Castillo’s voice to great advantage.
The generous and impassioned voice of Rosa D’Imperio’s spinto soprano filled the hall with her interpretations of “Estrellita” by Mexican Manuel Ponce (1882-1948) as well as the final romanza from Lecuona’s Cuban Zarzuela “María la O”. Joining her in an appropriate manner were the bongos of of Aracely Sánchez.
Mr. Arévalo gave us a wonderful rendition of the bolero “Costumbres” by Mexican composer Juan Gabriel (1950-2016), and Mr. Peñalver drew smiles from the audience when he essayed the well known “Cielito Lindo” by Mexico’s Quirino Mendóza y Cortés (1862-1957).
In the second half, Ms. Castillo returned with a song that again was a perfect fit, with Spain’s Joaquin Rodrigo’s “De los alamos vengo, madre”, followed by soprano Mary Thorne’s only solo appearance in the concert, with the soprano/guitar version of Heitor Villalobos lyrical first aria from his “Bachianas Brasileiras 5”. The fiendishly difficult buchee fermée section was splendidly performed and greatly appreciated by the audience.
I was pleasantly surprised to know of the work of the lyric soprano Elissa Álvarez, who interpreted three very fine songs by the Colombian and onetime resident of our city of New York, the Colombian composer and conductor Jaime León (1921-2015). Sensitively interpreted and with fine text couloring, she rounded out what was the bona fide “art song” section of the program.
Following were interpretations of “Fina estampa” by Chabuca Granda of Peru, appropriately sung by Iván Amaro; there was the soulful interpretation of the song “Olas y arenas” by Puerto Rico’s most beloved “torch” song composer Sylvia Rexach by Ms. D’Imperio, with an original arrangement by pianist and composer from El Salvador, Juan Guerra González.
The final set was an homage to Mr. Arévalo’s native El Salvador, which he presided over with two songs by Pancho Lara (1900-1989): “El carbonero” and “Las cortadoras”; the concert had a special ending with the US premiere of Mr. Guerra González’s nostalgic ode to a mother’s love with “Las manos de mi madre”, which had an attractive melody and brought the concert to a successful close.